The Phylai of Antinoopolis

P Sufenas Virius Lupus

Antinoopolis appears in literature soon after its foundation, in the Geographia of Claudius Ptolemy in roughly the year 135; it also appears merely geographically, without any reference to its foundation or to Antinous’ cult, in the Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, and the Christian writings of Stephanos Byzantinos, Hierokles Grammatikos, Photios, and the Notitia Episcopatuum. At a bend in the river called Hir-Wer was the site in which Antinous’ body was found; this name Hir-Wer might mean in Egyptian “Horus the Great” or “Horus is Pleased” (but don’t quote me on it, as my Egyptian is not very good!). It was on the east bank of the Nile, opposite Hermopolis Magna, and was also called Antinoe, Antenon, Adrianopolis, Besantinopolis, and in Arabic documents it is called Antina; it is now called Sheikh-‘Ibada, the latter of which means “the pious Sheik,” named after an Arab chieftain who was martyred on the site upon his conversion to Christianity. It was built on the ancient ruins of the city of Besa, sacred to the god Bes, or at Nefrusi, a cult-site of Hathor. The Greeks who colonized it were given the right of conubium, the right to marry Egyptian women without forfeiting their Greek privileges. Under Diocletian in 286 CE, it became the capital of the entire nome of Thebais, and in the reign of Valens (364-378 CE) it became a bishopric with one Orthodox bishop and one Monophysite bishop. Many statues were found there when it was visited in the 18th and 19th centuries during the Napoleonic expeditions, as well as two streets with double colonnades, a triumphal arch, a theatre, several temples, a circus, and a hippodrome.

(explanations/translations by Artemisia of Greece with additions from works by H. I. Bell and Anthony R. Birley)

Antinoopolis was divided into ten phylai; each phylae was divided into five demoi. The names of the known demoi are given below with their meanings.

The Ten Phylai of Antinoopolis:

  • Hadrianioi
  • Athenais
  • Ailieus
  • Matidioi
  • Neruanioi
  • Oseirantinoeioi
  • Paulinioi
  • Sabinioi
  • Sebastioi
  • Traianioi

Hadrianioi: Zenios, Olympios, Kapitolieus, Sosikosmios

This phylae is obviously named after Hadrian. The first three demoi names refer in some way to aspects or cult sites of Zeus/Jupiter. The remaining deme of Sosikosmios means “ruler of the universe” and makes him the universal savior and benefactor/provider.

Athenais: Artemisios, Eleusinios, Erichthonios, Marathonios, Salaminios

This phylae is named after Athens, and the demoi names are significant to that city and its culture. Artemis is obvious; Eleusis and Marathon are both near Athens, and Marathonios and Salaminios both have significant histories within the period of the Persian Wars; Erichthonios was a son of Hephaestios, engendered when the smith-god desired Athena, ejaculated on her leg, and the goddess wiped his semen away with wool and threw it to the ground, from which came Erichthonios, who became a king of Athens.

Ailieus: Apideus, Dionysieus, Polieus

Aelius is the birth-family name of Hadrian, which was then given to his first adopted son, Lucius Ceionus Commodus, who became Aelius Caesar. The deme named after Dionysus is obvious; Dionysian worship flourished in Rome under Hadrian, and he portrayed himself as the “new Dionysus” on occasion. Apideus seems to commemorate the incidents early in Hadrian’s reign of the replacement of the Apis-bull in Egypt, and Polieus is an epithet of Zeus, again in self-reference to Hadrian’s comparison to the chief Olympian god.

Matidioi: Demetrieus, Thesmophorios, Kalliteknios, Markianios, Plotinios

This phylae is named for Matidia, the mother-in-law of Hadrian, his wife Sabina’s mother, with whom he had a very close relationship. One deme is named for Plotina, Matidia’s sister-in-law and the empress of his predecessor Trajan, with whom he also had a close (some suggested adulterous) relationship; and Matidia’s own mother Marciana who was declared a “diva” by Hadrian. The first two titles refer to Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries. Kalliteknios means “breeder/mother of beautiful children,” thus referring to Sabina and a possible identification with Kore/Persephone.

Neruanioi: Genearchios, Eirenieus, Hestieus, Propatorios

Nerva, the emperor previous to Trajan, is the person for whom this phylae is named. Two demoi are “fatherly” titles, meaning “father of the family” and “grandfather,” plus references to Hestia/Vesta and the goddess of Peace.

Oseirantinoeioi: Bithynieus, Hermaieus, Kleitorios, Parrhasios, Musegetikos

This is the phylae named for the principal god of Antinoopolis, the person after whom the city was founded, Antinous in his form as Osiris-Antinous. Bithynieus comes from his home province of Bithynia, and his native city of Bithynion-Claudiopolis. Hermaieus takes its name from Hermes, one of the principal gods of Arcadia, the home territory of the Greek colony which Antinous’ family was associated with, and a relationship which Hadrian tried to play up in the aftermath of his death. Musegetikos means “leader of the muses,” which is sometimes given as an epithet of Apollo. Kleitorios and Parrhasios are named for heroes of Arcadia, Parrhasius and Kleitor, respectively the father and grandson of Arcas (the eponymous hero who gave his name to the region of Arcadia), both of whom were city founders, and the latter of whom died childless. As both are descendants of Lycaon (Kleitor is also sometimes said to have been one of that ruler’s fifty sons), the first lycanthrope/werewolf and are connected with the Arcas/werebear myth as well, this is a further interesting point. Parrhasius’ myth is especially interesting, related by Plutarch as being quite similar to the twin birth and suckling by a she-wolf of Romulus and Remus, a further lycanthropic connection.

Paulinioi: Isidios, Megaleisios, Homognios, Philadelphios

This phylae is named for Domitia Paulina, Hadrian’s sister (also the name of his mother), and the demoi are all “sisterly” titles. Isidios refers to Isis; Megaleisios refers to the Megalensia, the Roman festival to Cybele/Magna Mater, and thus is an allusion to that goddess. Homognios shows her common family tie to Hadrian, and Philadelphios commemorates his love toward her. This phylae’s attribution to Hadrian’s sister might have been a compensation for what Dio Cassius relates in relation to her death, to wit, that Hadrian did not properly mourn her on that occasion, and perhaps felt guilty about it later.

Sabinioi: Harmonieus, Gamelieus, Heraieus, Trophonieus, Phytalieus The Empress Sabina gives her name to this phylae. Harmony is evoked by the first, or perhaps is a reference to Harmonia wife of the Theban King Kadmus, who both lived into old age and in the Elysian Fields were granted eternal youth. Gamelieus means “good marriage”; the third means “like Hera,” to whom Sabina was connected in an imperial cult inscription at Thasos, and as Hera/Juno she would be the natural counterpart to Hadrian’s Zeus/Jupiter; the fourth means “nurterer,” but was also the name of a hero with an oracle at Boeotian Lebadea. The fifth has something to do with roots, perhaps referring to good breeding, but along with Harmonieus, Gamelius and Trophonieus could refer to Eleusis and therefore Sabina’s identification with Kore/Persephone; this fifth deme might have been called Matalieus or Matralieus, which would be a reference to the goddess Ceres Matralis, and Sabina was syncretized to Ceres as well.

Sebastioi: Apollonieus, Asklepios, Dioskurios, Heraklios, Kaisarios

Four of the demoi in this phylae, which is the typical Greek word for “Augustus” and connected with imperial titles and the imperial cult, are the names of gods, Apollo (the patron god of Julius Caesar and Augustus), Asclepius, the Dioscuri (Castor and Polydeuces/Pollux, the Gemini twins), and Herakles; the fifth is the title of Caesar. Also noteworthy is that Asclepius, the Dioscuri, and Herakles were all gods who were born of mortals and achieved apotheosis, and were initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries before their deaths, which might hint at Hadrian’s own thinking in this regard, both for himself and for Antinous.

Traianioi: Ktesios, Nikephorios, Stratios

The final phylae is named for the Emperor Trajan. They are titles meaning “builder,” “victorious,” and “of the army.”



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